Hearts marked their return to the Ladbrokes Premiership with a pulsating 4-3 win over St Johnstone at Tynecastle.
Juanma gave the Jambos a first-half lead before Jamie Walker doubled the advantage. Simon Lapping halved the deficit, with Callum Paterson restoring the two-goal cushion. A flurry of goals courtesy of John Sutton and Graham Cummins saw St Johnstone get back on level terms but Sam Nicholson came to rescue with the winning goal.
Robbie Neilson handed competitive starts to new arrivals Igor Rossi, Blazej Augustyn and Juanma while Prince Buaben returned from injury.
If the atmosphere wasn’t already electric before kick-off, with the Championship flag unfurling ceremony on the pitch, it went nuclear after only three minutes. Brad McKay slipped whilst in possession and gifted the ball to Juanma, who ran in on goal and coolly slotted beyond Alan Mannus to give the Jambos the lead.
Play then evened out, with Hearts implementing the now trademark patient build up. Juanma dragged an effort wide from outside the box and Igor Rossi had an effort blocked in the six-yard box.
At the other end Joe Shaughnessy’s long throw caused havoc in the Hearts box, with a large bounce carrying the ball towards the goal-line but Neil Alexander was alert enough to punch away the danger.
Osman Sow showed tremendous skill in the 32nd minute to weave his way into the St Johnstone box, completely skinning two blue shirts in the process, but his drive goalward was blocked.
Sam Nicholson came to Hearts’ rescure just before half-time. Simon Lappin’s deep cross was met by John Sutton, whose header looped past Alexander but Nicholson popped up on the line to clear, thankfully there were
St Johnstone came flying out of the traps at the start of the second-half and immediately got a half chance. Michael O’Halloran got goal-side of Callum Paterson and fired low across the face of goal.
Minute later Juanma was inches away from doubling his tally. He evaded his man inside the box to create space and drill low into the opposite corner only to see the ball roll just past Mannus’ right-hand post.
On 50 minutes Hearts were awarded a penalty. Juanma’s sublime turn inside his own half sent him racing clear and he middled for Nicholson, who beat Mannus but was brought down. Sow stepped up but saw his effort saved by the ‘keeper, only for Walker to beat the chasing pack and prod home.
Another long Shaughnessy throw caused confusion in the Hearts box and this time St Johnstone capitalised. Alexander pushed the ball into the path of Lappin who slammed into the net from close range.
The Jambos immediately went up the park and went close. Buabe’s cross-field pass found Walker on the edge of the box but his rifled effort was just wide of the target.
Just after the hour mark Hearts regained their two-goal cushion. Alexander’s long clearance was magnificently headed in-field by Paterson to Walker, who took the ball down and played the right-back clean through and he made no mistake by shooting low past Mannus to make it 3-1.
It should’ve been 4-1 shortly after. Walker’s ball into the box was missed by Tom Scobbie, presenting Nicholson with a clean shot on goal but he blasted wildly over from six yards.
Saints got back in the game with 15 minutes remaining. Sutton got on the end of Shaughnessy’s cross and his glancing header nestled into the bottom corner of the net.
A huge slice of luck saw the visitors get back on level terms. Another Shaughnessy throw ricocheted off of Augustyn and bounced off Cummins and past the despairing Alexander, into the back of the net.
Only a minute later Hearts regained the lead. Paterson’s cross to the near post found Nicholson who got enough on the ball to steer it away from Mannus and into the bottom corner.
An absolutely thrilling game at Tynecastle, in which the Jambos marked their return to the Ladbrokes Premiership with a bang.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Ozturk, Augustyn, Rossi, Nicholson, Buaben, Gomis, Walker (McGhee, 87'), Sow (Reilly, 90'), Juanma (McHattie, 77'). Subs: Hamilton, King, Oliver, McKirdy.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Scobbie, Lappin (Cummins, 68'), Millar (Brown, 20'), Wotherspoon (Kane, 85'), Sutton, Shaughnessy, McKay, Easton, Craig, OHalloran. Subs: Clark, Wright, Caddis, Rodger.
Referee: Steven McLean
Top man: Juanma